Suing over sewers; WWTA wants plumber's federal case flushed
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) – New details emerge on a lawsuit filed against Hamilton County's Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority.
A major plumbing contractor claims a county-run program is trying to flush his business down the drain.
This "clog", so to speak, has been building for six months, over a program that's been in place for more than two years.
It began as Hamilton County's answer to Tennessee's order to keep Signal Mountain's sewers from overflowing into the treatment plant and backing up into the river.
Three months ago, Roto-Rooter sued in federal court.
As expected, Hamilton County and the Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority have asked that it be thrown out.
Roto-Rooter franchisee Bill Foxworth is ready to make a federal case over the rules that Hamilton County's Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority has made concerning fixes to homeowner's crumbling sewers.
"They're taking business that should be our business, and giving it to whoever they want to," he told Eyewitness News back in January.
"You can either fork up to fix it yourself or let government fix it for free and decide who does it," Foxworth's lawyer, Jerry Tidwell says.
In March, Foxworth filed suit for $3 million, claiming the WWTA's rules violate federal anti-trust laws and deny him due process. Tidwell has based the dollar figure on Foxworth's estimate of business lost or that he will lose.
The WWTA's website had contained a list of plumbing contractors approved to repair and rebuild property owners' sewer lines. Foxworth claims the list, designed to generate the names of three contractors at random, rarely brought up his Roto-Rooter franchise, based in Catoosa County, GA.
Furthermore, Foxworth alleges that WWTA's fee schedule doesn't cover the full costs of the work.
"They (the WWTA) have seized control of the plumbing business in half this county," Tidwell says. "And they've been doing it for two years."
The WWTA has filed a motion to dismiss. It argues that Foxworth has failed to show how the WWTA has fixed prices or created a monopoly; given that homeowners choose their plumbing contractors from an approved list.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see other plaintiffs join in," Tidwell says.
Tidwell claims Foxworth is not fighting for cash, as much as for fairness; a fee schedule more reflective of the costs to perform the work. He believes homeowners should be able to opt out too.
"You've got plenty of people in plenty of newer neighborhoods, that are new to this community, paying $8 dollars a month to WWTA, that have PVC pipe," Tidwell says. "They're never gonna need this service. They're subsidizing people with terra cotta lines in older neighborhoods. Is that fair?"
A full-fledged lawsuit, Tidwell says, could take a year and a half. He expects federal court to determine whether it'll go forward, or die, before the end of the month.